Hybrid Across Boundaries

25/12/2012 - Reproducido con permiso de The Meeting Professional, 2012. © One+, noviembre de 2012. Autor: Samuel Smith. Traducción: Event Planner Spain

A hybrid meeting approach helped eBay—the company that brings strangers worldwide together to buy and sell goods online—bring its own European team together.

This case study is one piece of MPI’s robust hybrid meeting and event research, brought to you by the MPI Foundation. Get all of the findings, data and case studies at www.mpiweb.org/hybrid.

When Pierre Omidyar started eBay in 1995, he was quoted as saying he wanted to "create an efficient market where regular people could compete with big business." Here we are 17 years later, eBay has become a big business with 90 million users and more than US$9 billion in revenues (for 2010). And with any company’s rapid expansion, there are bound to be growing pains. Because of a major restructuring, eBay experienced a problem many large companies encounter: the multinational Internet corporation that manages eBay.com needed to find a way for colleagues in 14 offices across 13 European countries to interact as well as see and hear their leaders talk about business strategy on a regular basis.

Enter the European Team Brief (ETB), developed by communications specialists at the company in 2008. The first briefs were limited to a weekly email that included embedded video. But after a year, Web conferencing was introduced on a shoestring budget. The 14 offices had a one-hour, live joint meeting each week using Microsoft Office Suite. Finally the ETB was moved to the HD (high-definition) videoconference solution it uses today.

Participants in the weekly multi-office hybrid meeting now interact both face-to-face (in large designated areas within their offices) and virtually (connected to the other offices via the videoconference system).

The ETB has become popular among European eBay employees for its useful information, fun approach and the team spirit it engenders.

Team Approach
"[Our] objectives are to connect employees to their leaders and to our business strategy so that employees understand where we are going and why—and also how we are performing as a business," said Richard Davies, head of European employee communications for eBay.

The eBay communications department created a structure for the weekly meetings that employees liked—one that allowed them to put faces to names and get a live, team-oriented experience that provided updates on important company business.

Though the ETB originally began as a way for management to update their teams, the format has evolved to one that is less hierarchical and more discussion-oriented. Participants from the various offices interact and ask questions in real time. Davies establishes an agenda and plans for each meeting several months in advance.

"We currently have 14 offices in 13 different countries around Europe," he noted. "It’s growing all the time as eBay grows. Last month we added our recently acquired business in Turkey, Gittigidiyor."

The timing and frequency of the event has flexed around the needs of the business. When the need to connect the wider regional team was at its strongest, the briefing occurred at 10 a.m. each Monday. Company leaders liked how ETB could be used to set the tempo and tone for the week. Scheduling the meeting on Monday, a day when most people in the European offices avoid travel, also resulted in greater attendance. Recently, ETB meetings have moved to a monthly frequency, with occasional ad hoc meetings, reflecting a decision by the company to increase its local market focus.

The ETB is marketed to European employees through email invitations and follow-up summaries.

Supersize with LifeSize
After experiencing difficulties with Microsoft Office Suite for a live meeting of this size and complexity, the eBay global IT team chose to invest in an HD videoconferencing solution called LifeSize. The organization has a technical support team that manages a videoconference bridge (a system designed to minimize communication glitches by ensuring a dedicated, two-way audio and video connection between the offices), working out of Omaha, Nebraska, and Dublin, Ireland. In addition, the IT department provides onsite support at the larger locations. Otherwise, the ETB is managed on an in-house basis.

"We connect all sites 30 minutes before the ETB starts and communicate throughout via a group Skype chat to troubleshoot any issues that occur during the meeting," Davies said. "The local support team members act as studio managers, ensuring that presenters have everything they need and to help coordinate Q&A sessions," he added.

Key vendors contributing to the ETB include Crystal Interactive, based in London, which provides an audience-response system, and Craft of Communication (also London-based), a company that coaches presenters to apply theater and TV skills to business communication.

Testing, One, Two, Three
Production standards are taken seriously. Microphones are carefully situated to pick up all participants’ voices, and the video switching between speakers is seamless. Creative elements such as video clips also help to keep the meeting interesting.

The latest technological addition to the meeting has been an audience response system (ARS) developed specifically for the ETB by Crystal Interactive. It enables audience members to participate in live polls, ask questions and submit feedback during the meeting, all of which is done via a browser-based, web-conferencing site accessed through participants’ smartphones, tablets and laptops, Davies says.

The upgrade to the HD videoconferencing system and the use of a videoconference bridge has made technical difficulties rare. When they do occur, the team managing the bridge is able to reconnect sites centrally. And, meanwhile, with the Skype backup, communication can be maintained.

With support in the form of presentation instruction and trained teams of reporters who can conduct interviews and facilitate Q&A at the different locations, the individual offices have embraced their part in the production of the ETBs. The role of host rotates among the different leaders and each tries to tailor the experience to reflect his or her office’s location or nationality. The structured format encourages humor, a great deal of interactivity and plenty of time for discussion.

Survey Says!
Recordings of each ETB are now published on the company’s intranet as part of an ETB resource page. The recordings are also used to help train and coach presenters.

Over the years, the number of attendees at the weekly ETB has grown. Success of the ETBs is measured in an annual communication survey and through the company’s Pulse survey, which addresses wider issues relating to employee engagement.

Nearly 100 percent of responders to feedback from the 2011 annual survey said the ETBs keep them in touch with the eBay Europe business strategy. Some 85 percent said the meetings keep them in touch with leadership. According to a recent Pulse survey, trust in eBay leadership to make sound business decisions and provide a clear picture of where the company is headed has increased by more than 50 percent over the past three years.

The company that brings strangers from all over the world together to buy and sell goods online has found a way to bring its European team together. Colleagues now have a way to meet their counterparts and talk about business strategy on a regular basis. The icing on the cake? Last year, the European Team Brief received an EMErald Award from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) EMEA region for "best employee communications." One+

5 Tips for Team Bonding in a Hybrid Meeting
  1. Win your audience every session—your brand is only as good as your last briefing. Hold yourself accountable for the time your audience invests in your meeting.
  2. Coach your presenters to be engaging and to work effectively with a camera. Give them meaningful feedback on their performance.
  3. Ensure the content is the most important thing you are talking about each week. Explain why everyone needs to know about an item and if you can’t do that, drop it from the agenda.
  4. Don’t let speakers run over their time.
  5. Make sure people leave the room with a spring in their step.

—Richard Davies, head of European employee communications, eBay

It Takes a Village to Produce a Hybrid, or a Few Crackerjack Suppliers
Here are the ones eBay used for their European Team Brief (ETB):

Crystal Interactive
Live, virtual or hybrid, this company uses interactive event technology to increase its communication at meetings and conferences. It also delivers hard copy transcripts for analysis after the event. The addition to this meeting was the audience response system (ARS) developed specifically for the ETB by Crystal Interactive.

Craft of Communication
Craft of Communication helps managers and executives develop communication skills and coaches presenters to apply theater and TV skills to business communication.

This division of Logitech delivers high-definition video communications products with offices in more than 80 countries. The organization has a team that manages a videoconference bridge (a system designed to minimize communication glitches by ensuring a dedicated, two-way audio and video connection between the offices).

A service provider that offers free calling between subscribers, Skype also enables file transfers, texting, video chat and videoconferencing. The service is available for desktop computers, notebook and tablet computers and other mobile devices, including smartphones. eBay connected all sites 30 minutes before the ETB started and communicated throughout via a group Skype chat to troubleshoot any issues that occurred during the meeting.

About the author
Samuel J. Smith is a thought leader, speaker and award winning innovator on event technology. Smith has led a group of researchers in ground breaking reports on Virtual and Hybrid Events for the MPI Foundation, published in 2012. In 2011, BizBash Magazine named Smith one of the most innovative people in the events industry. In 2011 and 2010, Sam co-produced Event Camp Twin Cities, innovation labs that helped to rewrite the rules for attendee engagement in hybrid events. Smith has judged the annual EIBTM Worldwide Event Technology Watch Awards in Barcelona, Spain in 2011 and 2010. He runs Interactive Meeting Technology, LLC an event technology consultancy that specializes in interactive meetings and hybrid events. He is a member of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), and Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA).

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